Nationals Baseball: Two bad bets

Monday, July 12, 2010

Two bad bets

We keep talking about this but it is going to be the biggest topic of the second half of the year. The Nats have a choice to make. Make a play now or make a play later. (OK - let's be 100% truthful - there's always a chance to make a play NOW - but that involves a very large financial commitment and while the Nats have added payroll I don't think they are ready to be Top 5 anytime soon) We can argue either way but the truth of it is both choices are bad bets. The Nats are not likely to be playoff contenders soon nor are they likely to be playoff contenders 4-5 years down the road. (Beyond that - who knows about any team?)

The current roster is fine, roughly the low 70 win team they project out to be. They've gotten some planned production : Zimmerman, Strasburg, Storen. They've gotten some good luck : Dunn, Willingham, having career years, Pudge not collapsing, the early dominance of Clippard and Capps, Livan pitching better than he has in years. They've gotten some bad luck : Marquis injury, Lannan's collapse, Nyjer Morgan becoming a Nats CF in all the wrong ways. They've gotten some planned suckitude : Kennedy and Guzman barely holding up 2nd, Desmond fighting through his first year, RF issues, a back of the rotation built on the "Hope these other guys come back soon!" strategy. In other words, it's a pretty typical season.

In order for the Nats to be playoff contenders soon, without relying on everybody coming back and playing to their highest potential, the Nats need to add at least 15 wins. That's a alot of wins to add. That's like the Nats got A. Pujols to replace Guzman and got Albert P. to replace Roger Bernadina in the lineup. It's replacing Atilano AND Stammen AND Martin with Cliff Lee and his clones Biff Lee and Griff Lee. It's a two to three stud difference (assuming everywhere else stays the same). Of course that's hard to accomplish - it's much easier to make a 6-7 little changes where each one makes the team better. Or one big change and 4-5 smaller ones. Are the Nats able and willing to do that, to pay top dollar for say a RF and starter? Or pay top dollar to get a better 2nd baseman and a better mid-rotation starter and make the bench and bullpen the best in the league? I don't know. But if they don't go all the way out for next year then they start relying on a alot of wishes and dreams, a lot of good luck and no bad luck.

In order for the Nats to be playoff contenders later though, they would also need a lot of good luck. They have two tent poles in Zimmerman and Strasburg to build around. That's not enough. There is potential there for more. Bryce and ZNN both could be very good major leaguers (maybe more in Bryce's case). Desmond is still working it out and should at least be an average hitting SS for a few years, something not to be scoffed at. But there isn't a number of young pitchers or young hitters that are dominating the minors for the Nats. There's a few. They are ok. Of course the idea would be to supplement them with trades, but the days of the big deals are pretty much dead. The Nats can pull in maybe a couple quality players or maybe some quantity of guys for Dunn, Livan, Willingham, but not enough to think "Watch out for the Nats 4-5 years down the road". With good drafting, good trades, and some luck it could be that way, but could is the important word there. It could also not be that way and giving it 50/50 odds is being generous. Of course if it does pay off the reward is likely to be a longer run of more sustainable success.

The Nats can either gamble on a run the next couple years or make a bigger gamble on a run 4-5 years down the road. But because of the relative shambles the minor league system was in when the franchise moved to Washington, the relatively slow return of them to respectability, and the general eschewing of high payroll, neither choice is a good one. Of course they can't just pack it in and say the hell with it. They have to try something. It'll be interesting to see what they go for.


Hoo said...

"a back of the rotation built on the "Hope these other guys come back soon!" strategy."

And the strategy would have worked except a) Lannan fell off a cliff which I'm not sure anyone saw coming b) Marquis went down and c) Olsen made it back and then went down (personally, I add D) Dettweiler's injury).

I'm sure on paper The Nats had Lannan, Marquis, SS + also rans. Instead it's the good ship SS and the also rans with Livo's emergence making up for Lanna's collapse. Just about everything with the starters has gone wrong but for Znn's return and just about everything with the bullpen has gone right.

I think Znn, Stras, Marquis, FA pitcher and the best of Olsen, Dett, Wang, Lannan, Livo could be a rotation that could is a WC contender. Not a strong contender but a possible contender. The assumptions are that Znn and Stras continue to develop and Marquis is middle of the road innings eater. Dettweiler is a lagniappe at this point.

A bigger concern to me is the hitting. With pitching, at least the Nats can hope that some of the young farm talent develop as a surprise. With the bats, there's no hope for a long time from the farm system. Which means a lot of improvement on the FA market and the question of Desmond.

And of course, Flores had another setback so I'd guess Pudge plays 100 games next year.

Harper said...

Hoo - I think it could be a WC rotation but because of the bad luck the past couple years with injury it's going to require a bunch of good luck for that to happen. Look at the rotation FIVE injury returns, one best season in years, and one hopeful comeback. Will one or two of these things work out the Nats way? I think so, but how long will it take to find out? A season? That makes that FA pitcher a good deal more important than what I'd like it to be.

The hitting certainly does have less potential - but I like to think you get more value and reliability from FA signings.

bdrube said...

They really don't have a choice. They have to compete sooner rather than later or risk losing what remains of their fan base.

I was there for Dunn's three homer game Wednesday night with 13,700 or so of my closest friends. When the game ended, my wife and I were surprised that it was very crowded on the concourse exiting the stadium. Hardly anyone had left early.

Compare that to Strasburg's Friday start, which I also attended. There were 34,000 that time, half of whom departed after Jeezus's exit. They didn't even stick around to see if Dunn could repeat his 3 homer performance, which he almost did.

The 13,700 represented the real fan base for this team. And it will keep getting smaller if they continue to flounder. Even SS won't be good for much of an attendance bump by 2012 if this team is still losing 90 games.

Harper said...

Consistent winning will bring out the fans. Check out tampa - easily last every year from 2000-2007 they have slowly climbed up to 10th (so far) this year. If they keep in the race I bet they get a little higher than that. In DC it might even be easier given the large population. So now or later... at this I don't think it'll matter. The people still left in the stands are fans of baseball thick or thin.

Section 222 said...

I think the Nats have to make a good faith effort to start winning in 2011 and make a real run for the playoffs in 2012 or they will lose one of those tentpoles. Zimmerman isn't going to re-sign and wait around 4-5 years down the road to be on a contender. I'd like to see them go after a stud starter free agent if one can be convinced to come here and bask in SS's aura. With SS, Znn, Marquis and whoever can recover of Det/Olsen/Wang that's not a bad rotation. And it's about time that all of our young mediocre pitching talent (Atilano/Mock/Martis/Martin/Stammen) is used as trade bait to get a decent 2B or RF. Could we get someone for 2 or 3 of them?

Harper said...

An interesting choice, if you want to gamble and if they are interested, would be Aaron Hill. He's having a terrible year in Toronto but should be much better - is signed for 2011 (5 mill) with a couple team-options after that if he bounces back.

Of course I don't know if the Nats are in position to make a deal - either the quality or quantity would likely be too much for what they'd get back. It's doubtful teams will take 2-3 mediocre pitchers. They'll either want someone like ZNN in the deal or will want a truckload.

Harper said...

Hoo - by 2013 hopefully the team will have 3 of the Top 20. Let's not forget about Bryce.

Hoo said...

"Of course I don't know if the Nats are in position to make a deal - either the quality or quantity would likely be too much for what they'd get back. It's doubtful teams will take 2-3 mediocre pitchers. They'll either want someone like ZNN in the deal or will want a truckload."

The other problem with a crappy farm system is that we can't really trade prospects for players. We stocked a lot of the farm system by trading semi-decent MLB guys for mediocre prospects. And our mediocre prospects have mostly proven to be mediocre with the Clippard exception.

While Aaron Thompson makes me happy, he's not gonna fetch much. If Nats are gonna trade prospects for a step forward, it's gonna mean losing a Norris or someone similar (and really there's just not that many).

I can't see us picking up a real playoff piece with what we have in the farm system. Unless a team really wants to dump salary.